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February 23, 2018

39 Hours without my Phone: a Social Experiment.

I checked my pockets.

I checked my bag.

I checked my pockets again, but it was clear: I’d left my phone at work.

At that same moment, the train pulled out of the station. Should I get off at the next stop, wait for another train back, and go back to work to get it?

After a 15-hour shift, I decided that {deep breath} I would be okay without my phone for 39 hours.

Thirty-nine hours!

Two questions arose:

Could I still contact my boyfriend? And, could I find an important number I needed for the next day?

The answer was yes (my laptop was at home), so I let it go and accepted my situation—the next 39 hours would be phone free.

The change in my body was almost instantaneous.

First, as I found myself on the train without any distraction, instead of staring at my phone, I looked around. I looked at the inside of the train and out the window. I noticed that I suddenly felt fully present. My attention wasn’t being pulled in any other direction.

I do my best to not look at my phone all the time, but this is always an act of willful defiance. And without the little computer in my pocket offering me all the distraction my heart could desire, I didn’t need to fight anything…I could relax.

At home I realised—no music! My 10 minutes of listening to meditation music before bed was out the window. And then I realised—no time! My phone is the primary way I tell what time it is. No phone, no time.

I was beginning to like this…

The meditation practice happened without the music and was fine. And my lie in the next day lasted until 1 p.m.!

I emailed the boyfriend to let him know about my communication disability and remembered how nice it was when we used to send each other emails full of romantic words, instead of a quick smiley, kissy face.

Instead of just staring at my phone for an hour before I got out of bed the next morning, as I tend to do on my days off, I read a book. A book! And I found that I could read it for longer than three minutes before feeling the urge to look up some vital piece of trivial information on my phone.

Out and about, I noticed that the feeling of relaxation continued. I hadn’t really noticed the low-level anxiety that seems to hold me while I am holding my phone. I didn’t need to check anything; I didn’t need to message anybody, and I didn’t need to answer anybody’s questions. My time was my own.

I always listen to music when I walk about. Living in London can be chaotic, and I thought I needed the music to block out all the other noises. But here I was without a distraction. What else could I do but listen and be present to the noises around me? When I visited a café, what else could I do but read my book? What else could I do but write down a few thoughts of my own and write that gratitude list I’m meant to do every day?

When a question came to mind about a topic, I reached for my phone. But alas! I was alone. What else could I do, except go internally for the answer. Instead of looking to another person for a definition, I had to make my own.

I was alone. And it’s funny how, even when out by myself, I’m never alone anymore when I have my phone. I always have the security of instant contact or of instant information. I never have to think for myself, not really, not if I don’t want to. And any time I do think for myself or spend time alone, again, it’s an act of willful defiance, and so it takes up extra energy.

Like any addiction, it’s always easier to abstain when there are no other options. I was free from my phone due to circumstances, not due to will power. And so, because of this, I can report that these 39 hours have been the most relaxing, productive 39 hours I’ve had in a long time—apart from the mega lie in.

Tomorrow, I’ll have my phone again. I’ll be hyper-connected again. I’ll be available for communication at all times again. And I expect that low-level of anxiety will be back again.

Maybe I’ll accidentally leave my phone at work more often.

Maybe we all should leave our phones at home every now and then, before we forget how it feels to not constantly be at the beck and call of the world, and to truly spend some time alone, and to truly spend some time being present.

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Author: Suzanne Williams
Image: “Sound of Music” 
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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